Emotional and mental health are real issues in the overall question of protecting officer safety. Every officer is subject to the effects of hypervigilance in which s/he spends a huge percentage of his/her waking adult hours in a heightened state of physiological and psychological vigilance. As Dr. Kevin Gilmartin tells us, over a career these effects accumulate. One horrible outcome of this is an increased incidence of suicide among law enforcement officers, in police, corrections and sheriff’s departments.
The IACP has just published some useful guidelines and information. The work is summarized in the IACP blog posting below, which also provides links to the relevant documents.
Please take heed.
IACP Releases New Resource: Breaking the Silence: A National Symposium on Law Enforcement Officer Suicide and Mental Health
Posted on June 5, 2014 by iacpblog
According to a study conducted by the Center for Disease Control (CDC), in 2010, more than 38,000 people died by suicide. In 2011, more than 1 million adults reported making a suicide attempt and more than 8 million adults seriously thought about attempting suicide, according to studies conducted by Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). Since 1999, the suicide rate nationwide for those 35-64 years-of-age has risen 28.4% (CDC).
Suicide within the ranks of law enforcement is of particular concern to the IACP. Annual estimates put the number of officer suicides at roughly double the number of officers killed in the line-of-duty each year by felonious assault or traffic-related injury. Unfortunately, even with greater awareness of mental health issues within the profession, there are no definitive statistics on law enforcement suicides, due to underreported and/or unknown data.
Due to the impact suicide can have on the law enforcement community, the IACP, along with the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS), convened a symposium in July of 2013, Breaking the Silence: A National Symposium on Law Enforcement Officer Suicide and Mental Health, with the purpose of creating a national action plan to curb officer suicide and increase awareness of mental wellness issues. The symposium brought together various law enforcement and mental health professionals to discuss innovative and real world strategies aimed to prevent, intervene, and present successful event response protocols for suicides within agencies.
The goals of the symposium were to:
Promote awareness for mental health issues and to shift towards a culture of receptiveness towards those struggling with such problems
Assess current resources and training mechanisms related to mental health issues
Create a national strategy with the intent of teaching agencies how to alleviate the risk of suicide
Promote officer mental wellness as a primary component of officer safety
The symposium also addressed four specific themes relating to law enforcement suicide:
Culture change – The intention of changing the negative culture regarding mental health issues. It is important for law enforcement officers to perform to the best of their abilities, and in order to do so, agencies must be supportive of officer’s struggling with mental health issues.
Early Warning and Prevention Protocols – Institutionalize resources in order to identify at-risk officers, such as using mental screenings to test for stressors and indicators of mental health issues.
Training – Provide more training for recognition of mental health issues for the individual officer and his/her peers.
Event Response Protocols – How does an agency deal with funeral arrangements for an officer who committed suicide and establish post-suicide protocols for both family members and fellow officers?
Symposium findings were formally released on June 5, 2014 jointly by the IACP, the COPS office, and the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention. A PDF copy of the Symposium Report can be accessed at http://www.iacp.org/Preventing-law-Enforcement-officer-suicide.
It is the IACP’s position that no injury to or death of a law enforcement professional is acceptable, and the IACP Center for Officer Safety and Wellness strives to improve awareness on all aspects of officer safety. To learn more and to share best practices pertaining to officer safety and wellness please visit http://www.iacp.org/CenterforOfficerSafetyandWellness or contact the Center staff at firstname.lastname@example.org.